Apr 05 2009

State of the Wave — The Economy, Pyongyang, Freeman Dyson…4/4/09

This State of the Wave summarizes specific progress toward the opening of the 2015 Maslow Window and movement toward real, near-term space colonization. The focus is on events and trends of long-range significance, especially in the context of the 10 Wave Guides.

1) The Economy

U.S. unemployment is 8.5% — the worst since 1983 — and forecasters say it is headed to 10% later in 2009, and “the world economy is in the midst of its deepest and most synchronized recession in our lifetimes,” according to Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (Wall Street Journal, 4/1/09).

Nevertheless, the globally slumping economy remains well within the historical envelopes of similar pre-Maslow Window panic/recessions over the last 200 years.

The New York Times (3/15/09, V. Bajaj) cautiously seeks the bottom by noting that: 1) price/earnings ratios for stocks are very low now but still about twice the P/E ratios of market bottoms for 1932 and 1982, 2) although existing house prices have declined by 1/3 (in current dollars) from their peak in 2006, they remain higher than in the housing booms of the 1970s and 1980s, and 3) Americans are starting to cut back on consumer spending of disposable income which has recently hovered near 100%. According to Obama economic advisor Lawrence Summers, these are the type of early signals that suggest the crisis is easing, although it’s not clear how soon it will end.

On the other hand, the Congressional Budget Office indicated recently that Obama’s budget would result in annual deficits of about $ 1 T over the next decade, and the total deficit from 2010 – 2019 would be “$ 2.3 T more than the administration forecast last month,” (Wall Street Journal, 3/21/09). This could weaken support for Mr. Obama’s spending initiatives. For example, North Dakota Democratic Senator Kent Conrad expressed concern over the long-term debt level because it “threatens the economic security of this country — I believe it in my bones.”

The odds of our current recession reaching depression status were estimated at only 15% recently by a Wall Street Journal (3/30/09, Justin Lahart) poll of economists. According to 94-year old economist Anna Schwartz, who studied causes of the Great Depression with Milton Friedman, “When you get an unemployment rate of 25%, everyone is conscious of that and fearful. We’re not talking in the league at all.” According to Lahart, a depression today would be different than the 1930s because fewer people work in agriculture and more are in service-related jobs today, plus the social safety net programs (e.g. unemployment insurance) would “blunt the blows.” Even without an official depression, Nobel economist Paul Samuelson, is concerned that “after the economy bottoms out, there could be a ‘lost’ four or five years of sluggish growth.”

Even Samuelson’s bleak scenario wouldn’t significantly delay the next Maslow Window. Indeed, growing global Maslow-style pressures to explore and colonize the Moon should have a positive economic effect; e.g., as they did toward the end of the 1893 panic/recession just prior to the Panama Canal/Polar Exploration Maslow Window.

2) North Korea Missile Launch

The launch of Pyongyang’s Taepodong-2 rocket occurred as I was writing this post; Stratfor reports that, “North Korea launched a satellite into orbit via a multistage rocket, Yonhap reported April 4, citing a statement by the Japanese government. The rocket lifted off at 0230 GMT, and it passed over Japan as planned in the flight path.”

The launch had generated global concern: The Los Angeles Times (2/8/09; J. Glionna)speculated that it might test the U.S. “The missile is pointing at Obama. North Korea thinks that with such gestures they can control U.S. foreign policy,” according Baek Seung-joo of the Korean Institute for Defense Analysis in Seoul. Anticipating its trajectory to be over Japan, Tokyo positioned missile interceptors against the rocket or its debris (Wall Street Journal, 3/28/09). British Foreigh Office Minister Bill Rammell, while visiting Seoul, said the launch would be “a clear breach” of the UN Security Council Resolution 1718. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton labeled the North Korean launch a “provocative act” that would have consequences.

Stratfor reported on 3/25 that according to National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, “all indications suggest that North Korea will actually launch a satellite.” It appears he was right.

I suggested earlier that “the North Koreans are betting that the ‘global trend of the times’ — i.e., new space programs are developing in many countries around the world — will make the DPRK story believable.” This global trend is a major theme of 21stCenturyWaves.com featuring the approach to our next Maslow Window (expected in 2015) — the culmination of 200+ years of long-term trends in the economy and technology development, characterized by a major thrust toward international human expansion into the cosmos.

On April 3, Stratfor stated that “Ultimately, the Taepodong series missiles and SLVs are showpieces — diplomatic tools Pyongyang wields with care. They are not weapons,” for a variety of reasons including inaccuracy, low production numbers, slow launch capability, and NK’s inability to miniaturize and weaponize a nuclear bomb, according to Stratfor. They expect a few more scoldings or sanctions from the UN, and that’s about it. We’ll see what happens.

3) Growing Optimism About Technology and the Future

As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, this blog has consistently forecast 2 things: 1) increasing public interest in technology and space, and 2) more optimistic public attitudes toward the future. There is evidence that, even 5 to 7 years out from the next Maslow Window and in the midst of the current global recession, both are appearing.

For example, the New York Times Magazine last Sunday (3/29/09; N. Dawidoff) featured an in-depth inteview with Princeton’s Nobel-caliber emeritus physicist Freeman Dyson, whose mind is still described by his colleagues as “infinitely smart” and “extraordinarily powerful.” He is profiled as a brilliant pro-technology scientist, who’s not comfortable with Gore-style climate crisis rhetoric. According to Dyson, “the climate-studies people who work with models…come to believe models are real and forget they are only models.” But the real global warming culprit is NASA scientist “Jim Hansen. He consistently exaggerates all the dangers.” In a recent shift in public opinion, it appears the majority of Americans agree with Dyson; Gallup reports that only 38% think that global warming will have a major impact on their lives.

Another surprise was the current issue of Foreign Affairs (March/April, 2009) whose cover features a stunningly pro-technology article “Geoengineering the Climate?” In case Dyson and others are wrong, the article, by five legal, engineering, and public policy academics, favors albedo techniques to reject solar radiation and cool the Earth. In the style of volcanic eruptions, they suggest injecting sulfate aerosols or similar reflective materials into the upper atmosphere; the space-based reflective cloud technique of Roger Angel is not mentioned, despite the fact that it would be less invasive for the biosphere. Their technology-intensive bottomline is that “the option of geoengineering exists. It would be dangerous for scientists and policymakers to ignore it.”

In another pro-technology development, Gallup reports that “a majority of Americans have been supportive of the use of nuclear energy in the United States in recent years, but this year’s Gallup Environment Poll finds new high levels of support, with 59% favoring its use, including 27% who strongly favor it.” This mirrors beliefs expressed by University of Southern California engineering professor Najmedin Meshkati, at a public event in Orange County that I organized. While acknowledging concerns about nuclear wastes and life-cycle costs, Dr. Meshkati spoke of a “nuclear renaissance” due to increased reactor safety and environment-friendly energy.

Although it is not yet obvious what mix of technologies (e.g., solar, nuclear, others) is best to address future energy/environment challenges, the trend toward pro-technology solutions and optimistic public attitudes about the future is consistent with the last 200 years and especially with our forecasts of the 2015 Maslow WIndow.

4) No NASA Administrator

Space News has concerns about President Obama’s inaction regarding a new post-Griffin Administrator. In a March 30 editorial, they suggested that the candidate vetting and Senate confirmation processes could leave NASA leader-less “well into the second quarter of 2009.” The worry is about major near-term decisions — e.g., retirement date for the Shuttle and the 5-year gap — that will affect NASA well into the 2015 Maslow Window.

This situation is consistent with my January forecast that, despite Obama’s interest and support of NASA during the capaign, he will, of necessity, need to focus on the economy and national security. Therefore, NASA will simply not be a front-burner item early in his administration.

5) ABC News Explains the Theory of Maslow Windows!

The centerpiece of 21stCenturyWaves.com is the concept of a Maslow Window. These are decade-long intervals separated by 55 to 60 years, when major economic booms produce widespread affluence-induced ebullience. For most people, this triggers their ascent to higher levels in Maslow’s heirarchy, where major exploration and technology projects seem at least intriguing and often almost irresistible.

But why, over the last 200 years, have great explorations and macro-engineering projects not been favored by the public during the decades between Maslow Windows (e.g., 1970s, 80s, 90s)?

Gina Sunseri of ABC News (11/29/08) explains that “the space station is the most complicated engineering project ever undertaken, and astronauts are…accomplishing remarkable feats in space — but it is hard for most Americans to care much about the space program when they are worried about keeping their jobs, making house payments and putting food on the table.”

In other words, low levels on Maslow’s heirarchy just don’t make it. Thank you ABC News!

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